LB Malcolm Smith (3.18.21)

LB Malcolm Smith:

On his decision to re-sign with the Browns and what he is most excited about for the 2021 season:

“I think our prospects at success are what have me most excited. Obviously, there is a lot of familiarity here. For me, it was about making the best decision for my family, too, as far as taking them to Cleveland and what I saw from being in the city. I am looking forward to it. I am looking forward to the opportunity to play football. It is not easy to be… I will be 32 years old in football and have an opportunity to play at this level. I am thankful.”

 

On if the Browns defense’s potential for 2021 and if the unit did not have the chance to achieve the success it could have in 2020, particularly due to injuries:

“That is a part of the game. That is why you trust the staff will have a nice, deep roster that is well-trained and ready to play. It is just a part of the game. I felt like with the injuries we had and for the guys to have stepped up and played the way they did, it is something to be proud of as a team just as a team in general. It says a lot about the team put together and says a lot about the way we put the work in. Hopefully, we get a better opportunity to have more guys healthy and more guys in tip-top shape ready to go. There will be injuries, and you just have to fight through it.”

 

On if he had any doubt that an NFL team would sign him when entering free agency, particularly due to his age:

“It was more about whether I was going to stay ready to be ready for that opportunity. I felt like eventually something would come around. I feel like as long as you want to stay in this thing and if you can keep your tools sharp, you will have an opportunity, but that is not always the case, I suppose, and sometimes, life pulls you in other directions. I did not have much doubt in ‘if.’ It was more about ‘when’ and would I still be willing and able.”

 

On if he proved something to himself last year with a productive season:

“I think so. I think I proved that some of my training methods probably I was using when I was a little bit younger might have been a little excessive because I felt really good once we started going. Even just time in general at football, maybe it is work smarter not harder. At my age, I figured some things out.”

 

On if 2021 could potentially be his last season, given his references to his age, or if he is taking it on a year-by-year basis:

“I think just the nature of the game is people like young players. That is just how it goes. It is more about how you want to stay ready, like I was saying earlier. It is how far do I want to go. For me, it is just about being happy, going out there and enjoying every step of the way. I think if you look too far in the future, it can be daunting, and it is just not as fun.”

 

On where he is right now:

“I am in Los Angeles – my home. I am outside my house, actually. I just got here.”

 

On how the Browns defense can improve in 2021:

“I think for us as a defense, we are going to add some pieces and develop the guys we have. I think it is just going to be from a standpoint of knowing our jobs, our techniques, our assignments and how we work together. It is just going to be a little further along than last year. You are going to have new guys so there is going to be a learning curve in certain situations, but we are not going to be starting at the basics for everybody. That little bit of foundation of growth should help us reach another level, and hopefully, by the end of this next season, you will see we are sharp and we have guys feeling fresh and good. That would be ideal.”

 

On if there are specific areas on defense the Browns need to upgrade:

“I have played for a while. The difference in talent is so small across the league. It is usually not talent. I say it all the time and people probably get bored of hearing it, but it is definitely just dedication to the game and understanding your technique and the way you are supposed to play the game. I feel like that is where we will make our biggest improvements is technique on defense, situational awareness, knowing when to take your chances and knowing when to be a little bit more conservative in general. I feel like we have the guys to do that, and we will see what happens in the next few days over the course of the draft and see what comes out of it.”

 

On what S John Johnson III can bring to the Browns defense:

“I paid a lot of attention to the NFC West over my career. I know he had some really, really good seasons with the Rams. I know he had a lot of range and was a good tackler. I saw him make a lot of plays. In that division, a lot of really good safeties, and he was definitely a standout. He was not their first or second day pick, but I know he played really well early when I was in San Francisco. Watching him over the years, he has been definitely a stabling force back there after (former NFL S Eric) Weddle left. I am excited to see what he has and see his game in person.”

 

On if there is a lot more the Browns defense can show in the second year of defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ system:

“I feel like we mixed it up quite a bit, and I think over the course of the season, he got to learn us a little bit better and learn the players and the pieces a little bit better. I think obviously this offseason, have time to spend to look at it and check it out. Experience is going to go a long way. He is going to learn from our good and our bad last year, and I am sure he will come back with an even tighter plan. I can’t wait to see how we execute.”

 

On what would he like to see added to the Browns defense this offseason to help the unit get to the next level:

“The key is always pass rush and coverage. They go hand in hand. I feel like last year we had really good pieces that complemented each other well, and even through injury, we were able to hold up a bit. That is it. You get those two things and everything else kind of falls in line.”

 

On how quickly he became one of the Browns’ leaders last season and how important leadership is to a defense that is still evolving:

“Leadership is incredibly important. I feel like I am more of a lead by example, lead with enthusiasm and lead with attention to detail type person. You can hopefully learn by watching me instead of listening. It is extremely important. I feel like that is how you make a difference. I think the best defenses in the league have great leadership and their best players are very, very, very, very, very locked into every facet of their craft. I think it obviously comes from everybody that is on the field but continuing to see our best guys step up. I am excited to see. JJ was a captain with the Rams so you get a good player like that, he comes in and he was a captain, obviously, that means he is a responsible player who people admire the way he works. I think that will help.”

 

On how much pride he takes in his pass defense and if it is an aspect of his game that he has been able to improve throughout his career:

“I feel like early on in my career I was thrown into some really tough situations coverage wise. I feel like I learned from it. I was thrown on tight ends and I was thrown on backs in situations. A lot of it comes from experience at this point. I guess that is the difference between me and someone else in read and releases or understanding passing concepts. It is a passing league, and you have to be able to make some plays in the passing game to be out there. It is definitely a point of emphasis for me, especially now.”

 

On the balance between an organization having continuity and acquiring new players each season, particularly as the Browns enter Year 2 of the defensive system:

“That is a question that is above my paygrade (laughter). If it was me personally, I think that you have to value both. Obviously, turnover is a natural part of it, but whenever you have a hole, you want to fill that hole with a stronger piece that you can put in if you can or at least have someone who you have trained to step into that role – that way, there is less of a learning curve. I feel like unfortunately continuity is not valued as much in the NFL, but I think it does have its place and especially is recognized within successful organizations.”

 

On if it is still tough for him to see players leave the team, including Texans CB Terrance Mitchell and Bengals DT Larry Ogunjobi, while understanding there is turnover each year:

“I actually just got off the phone with Larry. No because I have seen it for so long. Usually, guys are moving onto an opportunity where they are wanted more in that situation as a free agent, whether that be money or opportunity, and it fits them as people. I look forward to watching them and their success. At the same time, if there was no free agency, who knows? I do not know. I was not alive at that time. Maybe you guys could tell me what it was like back then and see guys be on the team forever, it seems like, and I am sure they could tell each other what each other was thinking, but it is not that way anymore. We just have to deal with it, I guess.”

 

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